Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

November 14th, 2015:

SCOTUS to hear HB2 appeal

Gird your loins.

Setting up what could be a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to take up a legal challenge to Texas’ 2013 abortion law, which could shut down about half of the state’s 19 remaining abortion clinics.

The restrictions, passed as part of House Bill 2, would require that Texas abortion facilities meet hospital-like ambulatory surgical center standards, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia, and other modifications. A separate provision, which has already gone into effect, requires doctors who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.

A coalition of abortion providers has sued the state, saying the restrictions are unconstitutional. State attorneys say the measure was passed to improve the safety of abortions and to ensure women are getting the highest standard of health care.

If the Supreme Court had declined to take up the case, half of the abortion clinics in the state would have been forced to shut down overnight. That would have left Texas with about 10 abortion clinics — all in major metropolitan areas.

The clinics will remain open until the court hears the case and issues a ruling. A decision is expected within the next year.

“Although this is the first step in a much longer process, I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the rights that have been in place for four decades and reaffirm that every woman should be able to make her own decision about continuing or ending a pregnancy,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, the lead plaintiff in the case.

See here, here, and here for the most recent updates. The stakes are as high as they can be, but for SCOTUS to not hear the appeal means the state wins by default, so there was no better option. We’re just going to have to live with that low-level dread until next June. ThinkProgress, the Observer, the AusChron, RH Reality Check, the Press, Daily Kos, the Current, and PDiddie have more.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa to retire

A second open Congressional seat for 2016.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa

First elected to Congress in 1996, Hinojosa has largely had a dormant campaign operation for most of this cycle, and he drew a Republican challenger this year in former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal.

Hinojosa’s office didn’t immediately return a request to comment for this article. The Monitor, a McAllen newspaper, reported the retirement earlier Thursday. It said that Hinojosa had scheduled an announcement for Friday in McAllen.

Hinojosa is the 12th U.S. House member and second Texan to announce a departure from Congress this term. U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, announced in September that he would not seek re-election.

Congressional District 15, which Hinojosa represents, has traditionally been a reliable seat for Democrats. President Obama carried the district by 16 points in the 2012 presidential election.

As the news of Hinojosa’s retirement broke Thursday, names already began to circulate about possible Democrats who could run to replace them. Names floating among state Democratic operatives included: state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez and former state Rep. Veronica Gonzales of McAllen.

At least one women’s Hispanic group, Texas Latina List, which bills itself as a progressive political action committee, has its eye on the 15th District.

Rep. Hinojosa has since made it official. CD15 is a slightly purplish blue. Every Dem got at least 54% of the vote in 2012, winning by at least ten points in each case. It was a much closer call in 2014, with John Cornyn and Baby Bush holding their Dem opponents under 50%, but each Dem still got at least a plurality. I’d be more worried about this in an off year than in a Presidential year, but it’s still not a sure thing. I’m rooting for a viable female candidate to emerge – it would be awesome to have the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas in a year where we (hopefully) elect the first female President. Trail Blazers has more.

Elsewhere in Democratic primary news, we have our second contested legislative primary in Harris County, and our first involving an incumbent, as Edward Pollard announced on Facebook and Instagram his candidacy for HD137, against two term Rep. Gene Wu. Pollard’s tag line is “The Conservative Democrat”, which ought to make for an interesting debate. Yes, I’ll be doing primary interviews, which will be on me before I know it, so you’ll get a chance to hear what that means and whatever else I think to ask about. By the way, today is the start of filing season. I’ll do my best to keep track of who is filing for what.

The FRA releases its alignment analysis for the high speed rail line

There will be no downtown Houston station, that much is for sure.

The area around U.S. 290 and Loop 610, anchored by Northwest Mall, is likely to be the end of the line for a proposed Houston-to-Dallas high speed passenger train.

The Federal Railroad Administration has eliminated from consideration both of the paths that would have carried the trains to Houston’s central business district. The agency is overseeing environmental approvals for the multi-billion-dollar line proposed by Texas Central Partners.

The decision essentially gives Texas Central “our target landing zone,” CEO Tim Keith said, although the company still must procure numerous federal approvals, hold public meetings, raise money and acquire land before construction could begin.

[…]

Keith said the decision not to bring the line downtown keeps the project within its $10 billion to $12 billion cost estimate.

“Serving downtown Houston directly would require significant community impact and significant cost,” Keith said.

Federal officials eliminated options for a downtown connection because the each of the two proposed paths had numerous areas of concern. Both would have resulted in environmentally-significant damage to the Heights Boulevard Esplanade – part of a national historic district – and Cottage Grove Park west of T.C. Jester.

[…]

A decision about where the line would end changes many of the conversations with local officials, Keith said.

“We’re focusing on getting passengers into the (central business district) and allowing us to engage in those discussions with the various entities we can partner with,” Keith said.

The discussions will likely include the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which is planning some projects around Loop 610 and U.S. 290. Metro board member Jim Robinson said Metro officials have suggested the private high-speed rail firm help to pay for a Metro light rail extension to the area.

“They could extend light rail for a fraction of (the high-speed rail cost) and that would certainly better serve their business model,” Robinson said. “I think we should absolutely partner with them.”

Keith said no conversations about Texas Central funding other improvements have taken place.

“We are going to work hard to get something to maximize connectivity,” he said.

You can see a copy of the FRA report here; it’s not exactly light reading, but go for it. The Dallas end of the line is still a work in progress, but the list is short. The idea of HSR-to-light-rail has come up before, though apparently not in a way that Texas Central will officially comment on just yet. I think that would be a win all around, and would add connectivity to the Uptown BRT line, assuming it doesn’t get derailed. It’s mostly a question of how to make the finances work. I do hope Metro pursues this; since everything comes down to the Mayoral runoff these days, I’d be more confident about a Metro board appointed by Sylvester Turner taking that on than I would with a Bill King board. Be that as it may, this doesn’t get real till construction starts, in 2017 if all goes as planned. There’s still time for the Lege to interfere as well, so while this is another step down the path, the finish line is still a long way away. The Press has more.

2016 Hall of Fame ballot

The other election of importance going on right now.

Under new voting rules established this summer by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the annual Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot was released Monday on the earliest date in recent history.

Ken Griffey Jr. and his 630 homers and Trevor Hoffman and his National League-record 601 saves are the top candidates among a bevy of first-time qualifiers for the Class of 2016. Billy Wagner, who had 422 saves in 16 seasons for five teams, is another significant new name on the ballot.
Mike Piazza (69.9 percent of the vote last year), Jeff Bagwell (55.7 percent) and Tim Raines (55 percent) are the returnees with the best chances of being elected this time around.

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held on July 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

[…]

The BBWAA ballot announcement commences the Hall of Fame voting season that includes elections by the 16-member Pre-Integration Committee and nominees for the Ford C. Frick Award and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, all slated to be unveiled at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., from Dec. 7-10.

This year’s version of the Veterans Committee will vote on six players, three executives and an organizer who were all active in baseball prior to Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. The Frick Award voters will pick a baseball announcer who was a pioneer during that same period. The BBWAA honors a writer with the Spink Award for meritorious contributions to the baseball writing profession.

The new rules for the BBWAA ballot winnowed the rolls by about 125 voters, a Hall official said. While 625 ballots were sent out last year, about 475 were put in the mail on Monday. The ballots historically had been mailed just prior to Thanksgiving and had to be returned by New Year’s Day. Voters will now have until Dec. 24 to mail their ballots.

The results are to be revealed on MLB Network on Jan. 6, with a news conference involving any of the electees to be held the following day.

In the past, all members of the BBWAA with more than 10 consecutive years of membership received a ballot. Under the new rules passed in July by the Hall’s board of directors, members who have not actively been a member of the BBWAA for 10 years must apply every year for their ballot. The Hall then determines by the number of games an applicant covered in the previous season whether to issue a ballot.

As you know, I’ve had my issues with the way the BBWAA has done its thing in recent years. Perhaps this winnowing will make the process a bit better by eliminating some of the writers who haven’t actually watched a game since the Carter administration. I’m not nearly naive enough to think that this will absolutely be a change for the better, but it’s hard to see how things could get worse.

The full ballot, with the choices I would make highlighted:

Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Luis Castillo, Roger Clemens, David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds, Nomar Garciaparra, Troy Glaus, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Hampton, Trevor Hoffman, Jason Kendall, Jeff Kent, Mike Lowell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Mike Sweeney, Alan Trammell, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker, Randy Winn.

I think Trevor Hoffman is a Hall of Famer, but Alan Trammell is running out of time, and as voters are limited to ten selections and there’s still a backlog that needs to be worked through. I’d give more consideration to Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Billy Wagner in a different year, but these are the conditions, so make the best of it as you can. Given the plethora of qualified candidates and the lack of space on the ballot, anyone who votes for the likes of Luis Castillo or Mark Grudzielanek, even as a joke or to pay off a bet, needs to have their privileges forcefully revoked. We’ll know shortly after the new year just what fresh hell the HoF voters have unleashed on us this time. Who would be on your ballot?